Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of Saudi Arabia Tourism Authority Photo Credit: Saudi Arabia Tourism Authority
Saudi Arabia is a growing destination.
Since opening for tourism in 2019, Saudi Arabia became a place added to the bucket lists of many travelers.
Many American travelers still don't know that much about the country.
We caught up with Saudi Tourism Authority CEO Fahd Hamidaddin to learn more about the country's tourism developments, as well as hear his message for travel advisors.
TravelPulse: As the travel industry begins its recovery path, what’s the latest with Saudi Arabia’s tourism?
Fahd Hamidaddin: 2019 was the year we opened, five months down the road our borders closed because of COVID. So, it's very easy for us to recover. We're now at over 130% recovery versus the first six months of .
We are on an exponential growth because we're a new destination, there has been a lot of mystique associated with this country that has been hidden from the world, and now it's open. So there are many people and many industry movers and shakers that are saying this is an opportunity that doesn't come often. There are hardly any destinations that are still closed let alone a destination as rich and as large as Saudi, so we're very optimistic of the future.
Saudi is by far the largest investor in tourism. We genuinely believe in the power of tourism for the people, for the region, and for the world. Then you go and talk about development – no country is developing sustainably [like Saudi]. Sustainability – it's a big word, but the reality on the ground is you start with the basics. Sustainability is, let's talk about your local communities, so it's residents before travelers. Its opportunity, access to wealth, its preservation of culture – all of this is part of sustainability.
On sustainability, Saudi has committed to 70% of its total land in form of reserves and committed to re-wilding 21 species around the world – we started with the Arabian leopard. Now we talk about the future of destinations, like developing the 300 Virgin Islands that we have on the Red Sea, or the city of the future in The Line on NEOM, or the preservation and the celebration of our heritage sites – and it goes far beyond just being six UNESCO heritage sites. [It’s] sites that capture 7,000 years of history. Then you have Diriyah with $50 billion commitment to develop the largest mud city in the world. Diriyah is the birthplace of the kings of and heroes of Arabia, so there is a lot.
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TP: Health and safety are top of mind for travelers these days, so what is your message to travelers regarding the safety of their visit when they come to Saudi Arabia?
FH: So, safety is multiple layers now. As far as COVID is concerned as an example, that's probably the biggest topic and Saudi was always amongst the top five across all reports in the world on how we responded to COVID. Getting a whole national integrated plan that is executed with full compliance was the headline of what Saudi became a global address for the safety of women. I think Saudi, as per one of the latest American global safety reports basically said that Saudi is the home of the safest city for women after midnight. If you go and look at UN reports on crime rates, Saudi is amongst the top lowest crime rates in the world. So, I think we're not just safe, we're the safest in the world or amongst the safest in the world.
TP: Many Americans have a pre-conceived perception of Saudi – how do you feel about that?
FH: I usually say the world sees the world through the American lens. Now with that, the American lens that is interested in what happens in a distant country like Saudi would look at tensions and look at issues, so naturally they would only cover things like wars, oil prices, human rights, etc. That's what they would carry and then they actually tend to hold a picture about that country through what matters to them, and if they talk about the good stuff it doesn't sell, so I understand.
But I think a lot of people, as I said, see the world through the American lens, I for one was one of those that have appreciated a lot of great values of the American values by education. I think every civilization has its own beauty and value system and Arabia has been providing for centuries and thousands of years, and I believe Saudi as the largest and the most authentic home of Arabia has a lot that has offered and to offer today.
I would encourage all those curious travelers to be open and they'll be delighted, like the more than 80,000 Americans that have visited us in the last quarter.
Diving in the Red Sea Photo Credit: Saudi Arabia Tourism Authority
TP: Earlier this year it was announced that Playa Hotels & Resorts would be Bringing All Inclusive Resorts to Saudi Arabia - What is the future of all-inclusive resorts in Saudi Arabia? Are more hotels on the horizon?
FH: Of course there’s a lot on the horizon. I mean, every week I get to know about new hotels signing in. Now, the all-inclusive in specific, I know there is one Rixos other than the [Playa Resorts] one. But I'm guessing that mainstream cities and the city like Jeddah for example would be a perfect destination for all-inclusive. Most of the all inclusives are beach resorts, right? So, our beach destinations, we have the mainstream like Jeddah, and we have luxury ones like Red Sea Project Amaala. Jeddah is hosting the Rixos one, and so I'm expecting more to follow there.
TP: Hotels, in general, are growing though?
FH: Yes, it's a growing market. The number of hotels that got announced in one project, I know that they're hosting 38 five-star hotels. They've announced Baccarat, Four Seasons, Aman, Montage…but they're expecting to have 38 and that's just one development site in Riyadh.
The target is set to attract 100 million visitors is introducing additional 500,000 rooms in the coming 8 years…that's nearly four times Vegas.
TP: What is your message to travel advisors?
FH: I would say that what [advisors] are after is delighting their customers and giving them meaningful travel, so I think the ultimate luxury is meaningful travel. I think Saudi, with its culture and its commitment to doing what's good for the sector, it can make it a very, very rewarding destination for all the advisors.
I encourage them to discover Saudi and join the others that have started and are already enjoying handsome business growth. And one more commitment to [advisors] is that we will guarantee their experience. Saudi Tourism Authority will guarantee their experience.
For more information on Saudi Arabia, visit their tourism hub here.